Coffee and Contemporary Art Showcase at the Barry Arts Museum


Audience members of Coffee and Contemporary Art on Feb. 16 were invited to tag a canvas alongside the cast members of “Tag: You’re It!”. Photo courtesy Brittney Harris.

By Ash F.J. Thomas, Staff Writer

On Feb. 16, 2023, the Barry Arts Museum hosted “Coffee and Contemporary Art,” featuring ODU professor Brittney Harris performing her one-woman show, The Intersection: the Sandra Bland Project, and scenes from her devised play, “Tag: You’re It!” 


The stage set-up was minimal. There was a single theater cube with a brown paper bag, a trash bag, and a baby blanket on top of it with Skittles scattered around its base. Harris was dressed in an orange ensemble not unlike a prison uniform. The reasoning for this became apparent once she introduced her show to the audience.


Harris described The Intersection: the Sandra Bland Project as being devised after she saw countless headlines of violence against people of color during the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. She wanted to use artistic expression as a form of activism to communicate the trauma from simply reading these headlines. 


In her introduction, Harris highlighted the project’s namesake: Sandra Bland. Bland was a Black woman found hanged in a jail cell after her arrest at a traffic stop three days prior. The Intersection is named after the place where she was arrested and the concept of the intersection of race and gender in oppression and activism. Harris framed her show as a conversation with the trope of the unbreakable Black woman, with the point of view character a cross between herself and Bland.


“To me, Sandra was a mirror,” Harris said.


Harris delivered her performance with raw and moving emotion, from her pained  voice in her opening lines to her frantic prayers to “cast out the devil,” until the character reached her breaking point and lamented the world’s expectation for her to be strong: “Tears are a sign of weakness, but they are my release.” 


“There is this perception that women are deemed too emotional and unstable if they shed tears, but in fact to release the pain is a lot braver than to carry it,” Harris later elaborated. “I hope that audiences take away that it is OK to not be perfect. That there is not one way to be a short quote ‘strong woman’ in that each of us are flawed but also can be flawless in our truths.”


After a ten minute break, the seven cast members of “Tag: You’re It!” took the stage. “Tag: You’re It!” was a devised play directed by Brittney Harris and starring seven actors: Joseph Castro, Amanda Chaussi, Mya Correa, Jamia Gordy, Nyaira Jones, Reicse Owen, and Adrian Rivera. During  rehearsals in the Fall 2022 semester, these actors worked with Harris to create the play, which was initially inspired by different perceptions of the word “tag,” such as the children’s game, the act of tagging a wall, or a social media hashtag. 


While most of the cast of “Tag: You’re It!” began to fight over a blank canvas and cans of spray paint, Jamia Gordy invited the audience to “take a field trip” to the patio of the Barry Arts Museum. The cast spread the canvas on the ground, using rocks to keep the wind from blowing it away, and launched into their snippet of the play.


“This is MY turf … marked by me, for me,” they proudly proclaimed as they tag the canvas.


Afterward, they invited various audience members to spray symbols onto the canvas. I was tagged in by Reicse Owen; I tagged a blank space of the cloth with a yellow star. Audience members used other colors to draw different shapes: hearts, words, X’s, and even a cat face.


According to Harris, she and the cast chose to perform that part of “Tag: You’re It!” because of the audience engagement.


There is something very powerful about the dynamic between artists sharing space and a common canvas, and I wanted to present an opportunity to highlight everyone’s perspective,” she said.


The event closed with Harris introducing the cast members of “Tag: You’re It!” and thanking the audience for their participation as everyone basked in a well-deserved round of applause.